IT’S AN EMERGENCY! (So abandon your rights)

There’s a hole at the heart of government that is sucking in all who tread near it. Wigs, watches and dining club cards are swirling into the vortex at an alarming rate. The only thing that can block this hole, and help rescue the country from the EMERGENCY of this situation, is information. Your information, apparently. Such information is currently already accessable to government, through both pure and nefarious means, but that isn’t what the hole wants. We must sacrifice our information willingly, a bill must be created, so that all the things that are already happening can be validated. I mean, to prevent the EMERGENCY, of course.

Do you remember the Draft Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the Snoopers’ Charter) proposed by Theresa May a few years ago? The one that asked for Internet service providers (ISP’s) and mobile phone companies to maintain records (but not the content) of each user’s internet browsing activity, and store the records for 12 months? This information includes social media, email, voice calls, texts and internet gaming. It’s already the norm to store a large amount of excess information for longer than is necessary; Retention of email and telephone contact data for this time is already required. The Bill will allow for this data to be used in legal cases, and though the content isn’t allowed to be stored, this is already the case with many operating systems due to the algorithms they employ, and so content is still likely to be stored as a matter of course. Also, as Bradley Manning said recently, the data doesn’t lie, whereas content – peoples interactions – can lie. Your data alone can tell more about you than reading a couple of e-mails.

This initial bill was shut down in 2013, with Conservative and Lib Dem opposition, including Nick Clegg withdrawing his support in April 2013. As has been a reoccurring problem with our ever edging closer main party political spectrum, support for the bill has flipped sides. As befitting a man brought up around that boys boarding school language of jolly machivellian politics, Cameron expressed his desire to avoid a ‘party political ding dong’ over the bill. A Conservative win in the next election will lead to the success of the bill, while in the event of a Labour win, the bills initial champions, it may be thrown by the wayside to claw back some public opinion. It’s never been exactly popular, for some reason.

The coalition agreement in 2010 committed to ending the storing of email and Internet records “without good reason”. Now the ‘emergency’ aspect of this bill makes sense, as ‘good reason’ must be created somehow. Under the new bill, any organisation that interacts with users and produces or transmits electronic communications is compelled to collect and retain information about them. Already current data retention obligations require ISPs to retain data collected for business purposes for longer than is practical. If you’d like a small example of how closely we’re watched by sites we visit – and the control and awareness of the ISP over this – then on either Firefox or Chrome you can use ‘Collusion’, a plug in which shows sites transmitting and tracking your data in real time. Information is power, and capital.

The Liberal Democrats have previously asked for an independent review of the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), hoping that this will lead to less wantonly intrusive behaviour during surveillance by state agencies. This includes only allowing phone calls to be intercepted when a serious crime or terrorist act is suspected. It’s hard to legislate these fine lines however, particularly as now travelling to certain countries (Syria and Iraq pop to mind) makes you a terror suspect, as does being a family member of anyone associated with ‘terror’ of any kind.[1]

We’re all now aware that social media data on each individual is stored indefinitely by companies for market research purposes, with Facebook’s infamous hoarding of information standing out in particular. ISP’s like Virgin Media have also shown an ability and desire to control their users online activities, blocking certain sites. It’s too late in the process for there to really be any question over whether this information is kept or not. It already is being, and will continue to be. Hence Cameron and Clegg’s claim that this legislation will rather ‘preserve the status quo’ than enforcing further snooping. That does compel one to ask why is this ‘emergency legislation’ necessary at all, if it is simply to preserve powers which the government and corporations already have. What may be more desirous to obtain is the power to claim legality when this information is used. All major party’s have shown a desire for this bill, so it’s currently inevitable that exponentially more of our data will be stored as time passes. It’s no longer a question of personal ownership – it’s already assumed that our information is given away when we use particular connective devices like a phone or the internet – it’s more a question of who has the power to use it. Corporations or government – can we trust either with our private conversations, pictures, details, browsing history? Should any institution have access to that personal data, and the power that comes with it? I don’t believe they should, but even If you encrypt your data, set up an elaborate web of proxies and never Google anything, these measures will continue gather in momentum without a strong public backlash.

[1] Only certain groups of people are targeted though, otherwise the Mail would have been done for ‘incitement of racial hatred’ several times over.

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